USAF Special Tactics unit recognized for deployment actions in fight against extremist organizations

  • Published
  • By Lt. Alejandra Fontalvo
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

The 21st Special Tactics Squadron assigned to Pope Field, North Carolina gathered with family and friends July 24, 2020 to watch the presentation of over 90 awards for the squadron’s most recent deployment in 2019, battling six extremist organizations across three areas of responsibility.

“The majority of you would rather receive a decoration in your team room, your office or at home maybe, and not in public, but it’s important,” said Lt. Col. Randall Harvey, former commander of the 21st STS and ceremony speaker. “It’s important for you, because you need to understand that we know what you do and what you sacrifice. It’s important for your families because they need to know your stories. It’s important for Americans out there to know what other Americans are doing on their behalf. Finally, it’s important for those who have come before us and those who are no longer with us. We owe it to them to be here and be standing strong.”

The presentations started by recognizing the members of the squadron who deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The Special Tactics unit served as primary tactical planners for infiltration, exfiltration, fires, as well as Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance taskings in the execution of 241 direct-action raids during an especially “kinetic winter fighting season”. The team engaged in 235 firefights with hardened Taliban and ISIS-K fighters, controlled 4,985 aircraft, which conducted over 622 airstrikes on enemy targets, 235 of which were within “danger close” range. Their efforts removed 1,880 enemy personnel from the battlefield. Twelve Bronze Star Medals and four Bronze Star Medals with Valor were presented for actions contributed in this area of responsibility.

“In many ways it’s the greatest adventure to put yourself on the line... and step up when it counts the most,” said Harvey. “For some of you that line was a razor’s edge between life and death.”

In addition to the numerous precision strikes and direct action raids, the team made Special Tactics history by employing their leading global access capabilities. Specifically, one of the deployed teams single-handedly secured, established, controlled and commanded a mission support site during a 96-hour ST-organic and presidentially approved operation.

The squadron members deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve were also recognized for actions ranging from controlled fires, which put pressure on thousands of enemy fighters to surrender, to driving 190 joint and coalition missions and working with United Nations and Department of Defense partners to provide food and supplies to over 40,000 internally displaced citizens. Three additional Bronze Star Medals along with several Air Force and Army commendation medals were presented for OIR.

“You may not realize it, but you are the privileged ones,” said Harvey. “You are the privileged ones to have stepped into that arena and stepped on to the line when it mattered most. Many Americans will never know what that’s like.”

Lastly, a 12-person flight deployed to Africa was recognized for their integral role in building counter violent extremist capabilities with allied nations in Northwest and East Africa while navigating complex state and military systems to establish enduring Special Tactics-led foreign internal defense missions.

“In Africa, we partnered with key allies in Mali and Kenya, establishing new partnerships to integrate airpower into the ground scheme of maneuver… things no other [special operations force] can do out there,” said Harvey. “Our guys were on the ground day and night enhancing counterterrorism capabilities of these SOF units, while simultaneously reinforcing that the United States is the partner of choice in the region.”

The squadron’s Special Tactics leaders won approval from key Kenyan military leaders to craft and launch an air to ground integration training program for the Kenyan military, focused on improving tactics in the fight against Al Shabaab extremists. The program was deemed successful and sparked demand among Kenyan military and Air Force leaders for similar programs going forward.

“I want to say congratulations on a job well done,” said Harvey. “I’ll close with a quote from John F. Kennedy, he said ‘there are risks and costs to programs of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.’ Thank you for being men and women of action.”

Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operation Command’s tactical air and ground integration force, and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading Global Access, Precision Strike, Personnel Recovery and Battlefield Surgery operations on the battlefield. Since 9/11, Air Force Special Tactics operators have been involved in almost every major operation and have seen a significant amount of combat. It is the most highly decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War.